Detroit, MI – The family of a 22-year-old man who ran at police with an eight-inch knife as they were trying to negotiate with him early Sunday morning said the armed man wasn’t a threat to anyone and that officers “flat-out” murdered him.
Detroit police began looking for Porter Burks after one of his family members called 911 on Oct. 2 to report Burks was armed with a knife and had slashed the tires of his brother’s vehicle, WJBK reported.
Burks had left the scene prior to officers’ arrival, bodycam footage showed.
“He’s frantic and has a knife,” one of Burks’ relatives told police out in front of the house. “I’m concerned for people.”
His family said Burks had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and that he was in the midst of a mental health crisis, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The officers told Burks’ family member that they would transport Burks to the hospital if they were able to locate him, and that they would then come pick the family member up and give him a ride to the hospital, as well, bodycam footage showed.
“The desired outcome was to get Mr. Burks some help…to get him secured and to a hospital,” Detroit Police Chief James White said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The officers located the armed man standing in the middle of the street near the intersection of Lyndon and Snowden at approximately 5 a.m., the Detroit Free Press reported.
“Drop the knife for me, man!” one of the officers yelled out to Burks, bodycam footage showed. “You’re okay. You’re not in any trouble…Can you just talk to me and drop the knife?”
Chief White said the officer trying to speak with Burks is a member of the Detroit Police Department’s (DPD) Crisis Intervention Team and has received specialized training in de-escalation and mental crisis intervention, WJBK reported.
“I just want to help you, man, OK? Can you do me a favor and drop the knife? Can you drop the knife for me?” he asked, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Please? Please, whatever you’re going through, I can help you. Porter, you’re not in any trouble, man.”
“Your brother is worried about you,” another officer told Burks. “You wanna get some help?”
The officers continued to ask Burks how they could assist him, but much of his responses were inaudible.
The officers calmly told Burks to put down the knife, but he refused, bodycam footage showed.
They also repeatedly instructed him not to walk towards them.
Bodycam footage showed the officers pleading with Burks to work with them just before he suddenly began running towards them with the blade in his hand.
Multiple officers opened fire on the advancing armed suspect, hitting and killing him, WJBK reported.
Investigators said the five officers fired a total of 38 rounds in three seconds.
Burks had 15 gunshot wounds, but it has not yet been determined whether they are all entrance wounds, WJBK reported.
The Michigan State Police are handling the ongoing investigation into the incident, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The officers involved in the fatal shooting have all been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is pending, as per protocol.
“I want to once again extend my condolences to the family of Mr. Burks, who are obviously grieving the loss of their loved one,” Chief White said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Any time the department has to use force is never, never a desired outcome. We always hope for a peaceful resolution.”
The DPD said Burks had stabbed three of his family members over the course of the past three years, WJBK reported.
One of the victims was just seven years old.
Police said the first incident occurred in March of 2020, when Burks stabbed his sister in her neck and hand, then stabbed his brother in the top of his head when he tried to rescue their injured sister, WDIV reported.
He stabbed his seven-year-old stepsister in her neck just five months later, according to police.
Burks was committed to a mental health facility for another incident on June 26, but he escaped and had to be apprehended by police during that incident, WJBK reported.
The DPD said it took four officers and multiple Taser deployments to subdue him after the escape.
He allegedly punched one officer in the face during the altercation, WDIV reported.
“This is a system that has failed Mr. Burks and Mr. Burks’ family,” Chief White said, according to WJBK. “We need help with the system. Officers are routinely put into this mode and, candidly, we’re seeing more and more violent episodes.”
“I think the bigger discussion needs to be not what the police are doing with mental health, but who else is helping us with mental health issues,” the chief noted, according to the Detroit Free Press. “The officers had to stop the threat. There’s no time in the three seconds and someone charging at you with a knife to look over and see what other people are doing.”
DPD officials spoke with Burks’ family in a private meeting prior to the media-only press conference on Tuesday, The Detroit News reported.
The family convened outside the media briefing afterwards and declared that the fatal shooting was “flat out murder,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
They said police told them Burks had been hit with gunfire and a Taser “at the same time,” but Chief White said they are still working to determine whether a Taser was deployed during the incident.
“The community knows Porter. They trusted Porter. They helped Porter. They loved Porter,” his aunt, Michelle Wilson, told the Detroit Free Press.
“He wasn’t a threat to no one,” she added. “Y’all didn’t even give him a chance. We are outraged.”